J. Desmond Clark
Desmond has the rare combination of being respected as a giant in
his field, and at the same time being beloved by all whom he encountered.
In order to remember why he is held in such universal affection,
I have been thinking back to all the numerous times over the past
35 years - in very diverse venues on three continents - when I was
fortunate to spend time with him. I think that a key factor has
been that, in spite of his vast knowledge and stature, he was unassuming
and truly kind with everyone, whether young or old, male or female,
"big-shot" or recently started in our field. Desmond fitted
in perfectly with any grouping of people on occasions that varied
from the most to the least elegant. Not that he was like a chameleon.
Rather he always remained exactly the same : incurably and delightfully
the British gentleman, sharing his knowledge of and enthusiasm for
his subject, his warmth and his dry sense of humour. I remember
hot, sweaty, long and exhausting field outings, prospecting for
fossils and artefacts in the Middle Awash. Desmond would be dressed
as always in the field in his "mad-dogs-and-Englishmen-go-out-in-the-noonday-sun"
clothes. His younger companions looked a good deal more tatty and
were rather less talkative than usual because they were catching
their breath. Not so Desmond. He would indefatigably dart about
and excitedly point out all kinds of features, as always drawing
everyone in and infecting them with his joy of living.
We have been encouraged to share a "jolly good show" story,
and I do have one. Although it is a bit odd and rather far away
from regular palaeoanthropology, I will tell it anyway because it
fondly reminds of Desmond's great joy of living and of the surprising
range of things he knew about, was interested in, and could do.
It was the final gala evening of the Colloque International du Centre
National de la Recherche Scientifique in Nice in October 1982. At
this lavish and formal affair the full orchestra had just started
on a fast Viennese waltz. When Desmond asked me to dance I was a
bit nervous - a rusty waltzer looking apprehensively at a huge empty
dance floor surrounded by hundreds of people. Desmond said "Let's
give it a jolly good try" and off we went with Desmond whisking
me around at break-neck speed in the best waltz I have ever enjoyed.
At the end he said "Jolly good show!". I should have known
that he was as expert and dashing at this strangest of human activities
- the waltz - as he was at so many of the things he did.
-Elisabeth Vrba, Department of Geology
and Geophysics, Yale University